I imagine that even C.F. Kane’s totalitarian-inspired rally had a hearty concession area for the gathered masses. One can’t fear-monger, or be fear-mongered, on an empty stomach, after all. I can picture it now: Leland and Bernstein slipping away for a quick bite between Kane’s opening acts. In my mind’s eye, in this moment, they are stripped of their wry Greek-chorus qualities, attuned to their own life rather than pawns in Kane’s. Welles took two hours to unfurl the mysteries of “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane—this rally being the peak of his power and ambition, and thus, his furthest point from the purity of this elusive totem. Even then, it wasn’t enough for the diegetic players to come to any satisfying resolution of the enigma. This week, to kick-off the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, The Late Show live-streamed the condiments table for the same duration. Coincidence?
Politicians, lobbyists, PAC-men, barnacles, and the like often strain to look human—some, ahem, more than others. They’re not really relatable figures. They strain so damn hard to be every-people that it triggers Sorites paradox—quoth: “It thinks it’s people.” They typically have non-descript backstories carefully manicured and massaged to capture the widest-possible demographic swathe, prizing quantity and checking off bullet-points. And, back-room brokers are the flip-side of the coin—cloaked in mystery and ominous, nigh-villainous intentions as they work the levers and pulleys. And, party hangers-on are just kind of pitiable in their soul-sick desperation—maybe they don’t need the peg-drop. Collectively, their vernacular is replete with hollow aphorisms, buzz words, and slanted, evaporating rhetoric designed to dazzle and lull, making a show of saying nothing loudly, and pumping up crowds by pandering relentlessly. Describing these beings as robotic meat puppets spouting out prerecorded material at high volume—throwing red meat, as it were—is dismissive and naïve, sure; but is it really all that far off the mark?
All this to say that watching these creatures sloughing their trays of mass-produced catering across concrete convention alleyways to slather condiments on their lunch at the off-to-the-side, but conveniently-enough-placed, condiment table at a national convention like this, is a breath of fresh air. It’s like watching a throng of Hans Grubers at a carnival. We’re not supposed to think of these people as eating, shitting creatures. It’s a gentle piece of back-stage theater, a placid reminder—courtesy of a newly-invigorated Stephen Colbert (the man and the myth finally fused) and his Late Night cohort—that, away from the bombastic pageantry of the absurdly gargantuan main stage, and the spectacle-peddling anxiety of it all, even easy-to-despise public figures and backroom schemers can be relataby slovenly. Sorry, but I’m not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping, or real estate; the condiments stand will do just fine as synecdoche.
Countless outlets are covering this, but none nailed the disparity so incisively and gracefully. The only cure for overblown bombast is to cut it off at the knees. Just as the bells and whistles are carefully-yet-seismically deployed to make all the principal players superhuman, watching the condiments table—not even the food stands, mind you, just the debris slathered on top of the lunch—is enough to peel back the absurd, gonzo levels of artifice and theatrics. Bear in mind: These aren’t refined, gourmet offerings; this is high-volume, processed, bargain barrel flavor enrichment, people. Few things can bring the political elite, and the 1% down to earth like run-of-the-mill food stuffs. It’s a great equalizer.
Yet, each patron has their own special routine, their own foibles and relationship with this food-centric ritual. It’s also a handy metaphor—for what, it’s not entirely clear. But, it’s not hard to imagine that dressing up a bland lunch selection with some generic ketchup, mustard, or, for the heathens, mayonnaise, is profoundly symbolic of something important and historic. Some put too much on, masking the carefully synthesized taste of the meat and bread (I’m assuming); some embrace the flavor, carefully accenting their dining selection; some go rogue; some stick to the humdrum; some take an inordinate amount of napkins; some rush through; and some savor the ritual. In its monotony and repetition and deconstruction, this piece takes the kernel of art-damaged, bastardized actuality elongations, and turns it low-brow. In its food-focus, it’s reminiscent of Warhol’s Eat, in particular. Tedium is an emerging mainstream trend—oscillating fans, knitting channels, paint drying, etc. This is a new genre that’s taking a postmodern concept and diving headlong into banality. This entrant feels particularly barbed, if only because of its setting and dispiriting context.
Only a backstage once-over—almost a backstage of the backstage; not even the mechanics of the show, just the craft services—not curated, or managed, or airbrushed clean, could cut through the megalomania and monomania. This is the ephemera of life that unites us as a sad-sack species, and fills out the bulk of the human condition. If our alien overlords are gazing down on us through this tumultuous and bonkers moment in human history, they’d be well-served to focus their attention on the periphery as much as on the mind-melting drama of the main stage. They are mutually informed, and the true absurdity of our pomp-and-circumstance is only fully revealed in juxtaposition—inconsequence vs. bombast. Also, Tim Heidecker and Eric Andre were roaming around outside the gates stirring the pot, so hopefully that made the cut.
This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, a writer for dusk magazine.